Preparing the Canvas

Step one of every counted canvas project is preparing the canvas to stitch. In this lesson you’ll learn how to bind the edges of the canvas, assemble stretcher bars and mount the canvas to the bars.

Begin by binding the edges of the canvas. Covering the edges of the canvas is important because canvas is rough and can catch on the threads as you stitch. It also provides a measure of strengthening the edges for attaching to the stretcher bars.

I use artist’s tape, 3/4″ wide, available at art supply stores and general craft stores (Michael’s, Hobby Lobby). Masking tape would also work; the edges of the canvas are cut away for finishing or framing, so don’t worry about sticky residue. If you have a sewing machine you could also cover the edges with seam binding if you prefer. As long as the rough edges of the canvas are covered, use the method you prefer. Squeeze the tape with your fingers down the edge to make sure it adheres well. Cover the other three sides in the same way. Set the prepared canvas to one side and assemble the stretcher bars.

Stretcher bars have lap joints at the ends. Put the lap joints together so that the bars form a smooth surface. I put two bars together in an “L” shape, then fit the remaining two bars to the “L”. Use a small hammer or mallet if the joints need coaxing. When assembled the stretcher bars should form a square or rectangle, depending on the size of the canvas.

Lay the prepared canvas on top of the stretcher bars. Use tacks or staples to secure the canvas to the bars. Begin in the center of each side, placing a single tack/staple in the top, then bottom, then left and right sides. Work out from the center tacks/staples, placing a fastener about 1/4″ to 1/2″ on each side of the center. Work alternate sides – top then bottom, left then right, pulling the canvas tight as you work.

Continue placing fasteners until you reach the corners, and place a fastener at each corner. Some specialized stretcher bars like Evertites do not require a fastener at the corners, so read the manufacturer’s directions if you are in doubt. But regular stretcher bars need a tack at each corner.

It may seem like a lot of fasteners, but a tight well mounted canvas is easier to stitch because the canvas is not moving up and down with the stitchers. Also, there will be less distortion in the canvas that will need to be corrected for framing/finishing. So take a little time to place adequate fasteners no more than 1/4″ to 1/2″ apart on all four sides of the canvas. Preparation at the beginning saves time during and at the end.

Now the canvas is ready to stitch. You may stitch with the canvas on top of the bars as you mounted it, or turn it over and stitch “in the well”, with the canvas under the bars. It is a personal preference, no absolute way you must stitch. I prefer the canvas on top of the bars because reaching over the bars to stitch induces wrist fatigue for me. But however you feel comfortable will be fine.